Engineers develop technology to transform plastic waste

Engineers at Purdue University have developed a new chemical conversion process that can transform polyolefin waste, a form of plastic, into useful products such as fuel, pure polymers and naphtha, a mixture of hydro-carbon.

Leading researcher Professor Linda Wang said the technology has potential to boost profits in the recycling industry and shrink the worlds plastic waste stock.

Ms Wang was inspired to develop the technology after reading only 9 per cent of the 8.3 billion tones of plastic produced globally over the last 65 years had been recycled, with the remaining 79 per cent ending up in landfills and oceans.

“Plastic waste disposal, whether recycled or thrown away, does not mean the end of the story.

“These plastics degrade slowly and release toxic microplastics and chemicals into the land and the water.

“This is a catastrophe because once these pollutants are in the ocean they are impossible to retrieve completely,” she said.

The chemical conversion process incorporates selective extraction and hydrothermal liquefaction and can convert more than 90 per cent of polyolefin waste.

If the plastic is converted into naphtha it can be used as a feedstock for other chemicals or further separated into specialty solvents.

Purdue’s School of Engineering Technology is hoping to optimise the conversion process to produce high quality gasoline and diesel fuels saying fuel derived from polyolefin waste could each year satisfy four per cent of annual demand for gasoline and diesel fuel.

A February 2019 University of Technology Sydney study that revealed Australia only recycles a third of its plastic packaging waste suggests Wang’s technology has application potential in Australia.

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